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Theology in the marketplace

18 May 2018

Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or to add to the answers given below


I think I remember someone quoting a church Father, perhaps St Athanasius, observing he could not go to the marketplace to buy bread (?) without theology becoming the topic of conversation.

I think the example given was whether the Father was greater than the Son. What exactly is the quotation and its source? Such open discussion of religion used to be true in England; what or whose influence caused this to change?

Your answers: 

Kallistos Ware, in The Orthodox Church (Penguin Books), writes: “Gregory of Nyssa describes the unending theological arguments in Constantinople at the time of the second General Council:

“‘The whole city is full of it, the squares, the market places, the cross-roads, the alleyways; old-clothes men, money changers, food sellers: they are all busy arguing.

“‘If you ask someone to give you change, he philosophizes about the Begotten and the Unbegotten; if you inquire about the price of a loaf, you are told by way of reply that the Father is greater and the Son inferior; if you ask ‘Is my bath ready?’ the attendant answers that the Son was made out of nothing.’ (On the Deity of the Son [Patrologia Graeca xlvi, 557b]).”

Robert McLean
Fairfield, New South Wales

It is in Gregory of Nyssa’s “On the Deity of the Son and the Spirit”. . . So hot was the dispute that we are still required to spend a minute each Sunday reciting the right answer (“eternally begotten . . . God of God . . . begotten not made . . .”).

But the questioner’s nostalgia for such disputes’ becoming common in the marketplace is probably a bit misplaced: 16 centuries of further experience suggest that bloodshed is the result as often as not.

(The Revd) Peter Mullins
Haworth, West Yorkshire


I would be delighted if anyone could suggest hymns suitable for a service to do with the railways and steam engines. [Answers, 27 April and 11 May]

Sheila Skertchley, of Leicester, points us to the hymn “When through the whirl of wheels and engines humming” (Songs of Praise Enlarged, 698), by G. A. Studdert-Kennedy; and the song “Join the Gospel Express”, by Hugh Mitchell, which can be heard on the internet. Editor


Your questions: Who wrote the poem “Life Triumphant”, which seems to have been used on cards of condolence during the First World War? It begins, after the quotation “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a Crown of Life”: “Across the world the Voice of God hath spoken . . . ., Make answer ‘It is well.’” The third stanza appears on our village (Catsfield) war memorial: “They are not dead who fall in battle, giving Their lives for honour, smiling at death’s dart; They are not dead whose memory still is living Within a Nation’s heart.”

M. A. B.


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